Posted in: enterprise

More on Enterprise 2.0 – The Hidden Power of the Expense Report

I have been reading a handful of well-written and interesting posts beating the drum about how some of the great things that leading-edge consumers in the web space have come to know and love (tagging, bookmarking, AJAX-enabled interfaces, etc) will inevitably make their way to the enterprise in some form of “Enterprise 2.0” and I must admit that I have some deep skepticism about how fast this will happen. Part of me feels like it’s a knee jerk reaction to where we are in the Web 2.0 hype cycle – nobody has been talking about enterprise software outside of SaaS for some time now and this gives life to a boring but important portion of the tech landscape.

The reason I get hung up on why this Enterprise 2.0 stuff is going to take a lot longer than people think is pretty straightforward. As someone who has worked in technology and invested in enterprise start-ups, I have only seen grassroots technology take hold in a corporation in one of two ways. First, a motivated individual (usually at the individual contributor or department manager level) is able to sneak in a technology solution that makes the individual or group more productive. Given that it touches enterprise data, it usually ends up needing (and getting) the blessing of the IT folks who can then deploy it. What starts out as a pilot grows to a small deployment and well, you know the rest. Pretty classic stuff.

The other model is the expense report model. I remember when I first started seeing individual sales reps using or carrying Blackberries for email, many of them were just expensing the purchase every month as it was work-related and small enough to fall below the water line of scrutiny at their companies. For something that is discrete, doesn’t need to interface with internal IT systems from day one, and makes the individual immediately productive, there will always be the back door of the expense report as a way to get some things in the door.

At the end of the day, I don’t see how you can deploy a Zimbra-like solution for email, an internal social bookmarking application, or some other slick web interface without some collaboration from IT and a motivated individual inside the company who wants to advocate for the purchase. I haven’t seen examples of many established companies who have the combination of a motivated internal customer and a solution that can be deployed easily.

I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom, but I do think that enterprises deploy technology in a different way than consumers adopt it. Simply selling the IT department or a motivated individual on the utility of the solution is a very small part of the puzzle — how do you actually drive adoption and usage, especially if the people at the company are not early adopters and might frankly be okay with stale but well-known interfaces?

There is one area where I do think that there’s an opportunity to deploy a low risk, high value solution that would rile an IT department. Talk to just about anyone who has a medium-to-large sized intranet and ask them how easy it is to find information. A social bookmarking application for enterprises (or some mechanism for identifying useful content outside of algorithmic search) would avoid the tag spam problems you need to solve on the open Internet and would allow internal experts to point users toward useful content. And if people don’t adopt it once it’s deployed, it’s not the end of the world.

Anyway, I think that a lot of these concepts and technologies will make their way into the enterprise, but it will take a lot longer than people think, especially if the goal is to get major corporations (many of whose employees do not live in Silicon Valley and don’t read tech blogs like this all day long) to adopt and deploy this stuff.